Effectiveness and Ethical Concerns of Prescription Stimulant and Caffeine Use
DeWald, Mary (Molly) K. E.
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Prescription stimulants, or cognitive enhancers, as well as caffeine, stimulate the central and peripheral nervous system, temporarily increasing alertness, physical endurance, motivation to accomplish tasks, and the ability to stay awake by those who take them (Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA], 2011). Consistent or high-dose use can commonly be associated with agitation, hostility, panic, aggression, or paranoia (DEA, 2011). For individuals who take stimulants regularly, a tolerance to these drugs can develop quickly, requiring more and more of the drugs to feel their effects and it is common for a dependence to form (DEA, 2011). When individuals try to abruptly stop taking these medications after consistent use, withdrawal symptoms such as drug craving, depression, anxiety, and severe fatigue can result (DEA, 2011 ). The debate of whether prescription stimulants and caffeine use truly make a difference in enhancing cognitive performance has been a controversial one, as many researchers have unveiled contradictory results. Some researchers believe that stimulants may enhance academic performance, particularly declarative memory, improving the ability to retain knowledge and facts, while others choose to believe stimulants provide very minimal cognitive enhancement, if at all. There is much concern regarding whether stimulant use should be considered a form of"cheating," as they could give students an advantage over others, but perhaps the most important question relates to the extent to which stimulants enhance performance. Both prescription stimulants and caffeine could be perceived by most students as a way to increase alertness and to help improve their productivity throughout the day to complete assignments and focus better on their schoolwork. Conclusive evidence as to whether stimulants significantly enhance performance remains elusive. With results thus far ambiguous, additional research is required to establish a definitive answer. Nevertheless, the research available still affords us insight into the potential risks and benefits of stimulant use, providing a framework for judging their merit and ethical ramifications in today's society.